This week marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of Seinfeld. Popular wisdom holds that Seinfeld was "a show about nothing." And of course this isn't exactly true—the show was about relationships, social niceties, narcissism, and modernity. More specifically, it was a show about the conflation of these things.
Unlike the characters on Friends—our other 1990s über-sitcom—the Seinfeldian gang wasn't so much a makeshift urban family as a group of people who found each other's company varying degrees of advantageous and esteem-boosting. These were not good people, to put it mildly. "Seinfeld was defiantly not lovable," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in New York, describing the world they inhabited as "a kind of open-air prison of social ritual".
But Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine dissected, in minute and unflinching detail, all the quirks and agitations of daily life that generally went unremarked upon. They pointed out the absurdity of situations we'd all found mildly flabbergasting. They said the things we all wished we could (or someone would, at any rate) say, before the Internet came along to satisfy these sort of wish-fulfillment needs.
In reruns, Seinfeld works best when its central conundrums hinge more on interpersonal dynamics than technology. I now find it delightful how many issues could apparently arise from answering machines. At the time, though, these types of things were surely novel dilemmas. Which is why, right now, the best tweets from the "Modern Seinfeld" Twitter account are the ones about technology ("Kramer creates an app that gives you ideas for other apps").
Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) isn't affiliated with Jerry Seinfeld or NBC (and Larry David apparently isn't a fan). It's a parody account, based on the simple premise: "What if Seinfeld were still on the air?" The account—launched in 2012—is run by comedian, playwright, and TV writer Jack Moore, who currently writes for a new ABC show called Manhattan Love Story and was an editor for Buzzfeed, and Josh Gondelman, a web producer for John Oliver's Last Week Tonight and writer for New York magazine. The @SeinfeldToday tweets that seem the most spot on and clever to me are probably the ones that best typify the answering machine phenomenon—in 15 to 25 years, our star-crossed text messages and Instagram issues will seem quaint, it not completely unrecognizable:
Jerry gets paranoid about his girlfriend's past when her iPhone automatically connects to the wi-fi at Newman's apartment.
— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) June 3, 2014
Elaine's BF notices she has no Instagrams with black people. She awkwardly tries to take pics w/ black co-workers to prove she's not racist.
— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) April 28, 2014
Jerry's GF always smokes an e-cig in bed. GF:"But it's vapor." J:"You say that like vapor's something I want. I don't want vapor! No vapor!"
— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) April 16, 2014
Jerry's girlfriend won't stop saying that she "literally can't." "What?! Can't what?! Finish your sentence!"
— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) March 18, 2014
George swipes right for every woman on Tinder. E:"What if you're not attracted to her?" G:"If she's attracted to me, I might be!"
— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) December 21, 2013
Jerry's Twitter's hacked. People like "Hacked Jerry" better. George tries to get trampled on Black Friday so he can sue. Everyone is polite.
— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) November 30, 2013
Kramer and Newman search Brooklyn for a McDonald's rumored to carry the McRib year-round. A Twitter troll slowly drives Jerry crazy.
— Modern Seinfeld (@SeinfeldToday) April 25, 2013
A Twitter troll slowly drives Jerry crazy… There's something immensely sad about this (entirely plausible) plot point. In New York, Seitz mentions how Seinfeld catchphrases today would be made into ample memes and gifs. Seinfeld was—in its time, at least—saved from the gif. Which brings us to a much shorter-lived show that also debuted in 1989, in August: Saved by the Bell.
To younger members of Gen X and older millennials, this is part of the childhood canon. I think we all died a little inside yesterday in the Reason D.C. office when we realized that none of our interns and a few of our youngest staffers had no idea who Jessie Spano was. By a quick show of birth years, we pipointed 1990 as the crack in this generational divide. I shudder to ask them about the Soup Nazi—though I suppose Seinfeld is a show you're more prone to watch in reruns as an adult than Saved by the Bell. (Another show launched in 1989, The Simpsons, is still airing after all these years.)
Since I'm just digressing at this point, I'll point you to some of Reason's Seinfeld coverage from way back (#TBT!). Here's Charles Oliver in 2000, smacking down the idea that "Homer Simpson and Jerry Seinfeld (are) symbols of a spiritual rot in American popular culture." And here's Nick Gillespie writing about the show in 1995, back when it was still "difficult to think of (TV) as a possessing an aesthetic dimension." If Seinfeld aired today, it's hard to imagine it even making the top 10 or 20 indicators of cultural rot list; but I can see Alyssa Rosennberg writing think pieces about its gender dynamics and Salon's contrarian takes on George's hairline. The biggest differences for a modern Seinfeld probably wouldn't be the technology or types of problems our characters confronted but the cultural conversation around it.